Yagan

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You came to our country — you have driven us from our haunts, and disturbed us in our occupations. As we walk in our own country we are fired upon by the white men; why should the white men treat us so?

Yagan (c. 1795 – July 11 1833) was a Noongar warrior who played a key part in early indigenous Australian resistance to European settlement and rule in the area of Perth, Western Australia. After he led a series of attacks in which white settlers were killed, a bounty was offered for his capture dead or alive, and he was shot dead by a young settler. Yagan's death has passed into Western Australian folklore as a symbol of the unjust and sometimes brutal treatment of the indigenous peoples of Australia by colonial settlers. Famous throughout Australia, he is considered a hero by the Noongar people.

Quotes from Yagan[edit]

  • You came to our country — you have driven us from our haunts, and disturbed us in our occupations. As we walk in our own country we are fired upon by the white men; why should the white men treat us so?

Quotes about Yagan[edit]

He was strong and active, perfectly fearless, and the best spearsman of his tribe — but passionate, implacable and sullen; in short, a most complete and untameable savage. ~ Robert Dale
  • Do you recollect my having mentioned, some time ago, the murder of an outsettler on the Canning River by the natives? One of these, called Ya-gan, identified (on oath by a boy who escaped) as the principal actor, who took the spears from his companions and deliberately drove them one by one into the deceased (who had become entangled in a hedge while trying to escape), has been taken. The Government offered a reward for the apprehension of this Ya-gan, and some days ago he and two others, almost equally concerned, were seized by two boatmen, and brought to Perth: they had been fishing, and were enticed into the boat and there secured; they have been sent to Carnac, where they are to suffer solitary confinement and be taught our language. One of them escaped by swiming and diving across the river, where it is fully a mile in breadth.


  • [T]he natives that were imprisoned on Carnac Island have completely outwitted their guards; a boat was incautiously suffered to remain at the island before night, when they managed to get into it, and were miles off before their escape was discovered; and as there was no boat for pursuit, they reached the land. Their boat was found at Woodman's Point, with one oar; but no natives have been seen since. This occurrence is extremely provoking, as a knowledge of their language would soon have been acquired by us; and they were rapidly learning to make themselves intelligible. I understand they were very accurate in describing the rivers which lie to the north. Mr. Lyon, who superintended the native prisoners at Carnac, says they describe several rivers to the north; one of them large, and abounding with fish; but they could not be understood in their description of distances. It seems that the land is all parcelled out into districts among themselves, and that they rarely travel far from their own homes. The chief of this district is called "Worragonga": Ya-gan is the son of Worragonga. I write this from recollection; but it is no great matter [ 147 ]if I should have made a false heraldry in blazoning his pedigree.


  • [S]ome of my letters must have gone astray, as you seem only to have heard incidentally about the spear thrown at me by the natives, and some other affairs which have been nearly forgotten by me. I must now tell you about the spear. One day (as children's tales commence) I was standing in the parlour between two windows, when I was startled by a smart heavy blow on the window frame at my left side; thinking it was a practical joke of some passing friend, I went out leisurely and was surprized to see two natives running away. On looking at the window, I found the point of a spear buried about two inches in the corner of the window frame; the spear lay under the window. I was, as you may suppose, more satisfied to see it there than sticking in my side, for which it seemed well aimed. This occurred long ago, and I have never seen a native here since; it was the celebrated Ya-gan, who so complimented me.


  • Mr. Norcott we are informed had a narrow escape from that determined villian Yagan a few days ago, he happened to give him more than his share of biscuit, and endeavouring to take it away, when Yagan's ire was aroused, and his spear instantly pointed; this was done in the presence of several persons who restrained him. The reckless daring of this desperado who sets his life at a pin's fee, has been the subject of general observation, and we firmly believe for the most trivial offence even with a loaded musket at his breast, he would take the life of any man who provoked him. He is at the head and front of any mischief; it has been suggested that he should be again confined, but this we believe would only leave an opening for an equally daring successor. The chuckling style in which Yagan gives us to understand the manner in which they effected their escape from Carnac, is highly amusing; but a short time ago, he walked up to the door of the Jail at Fremantle, and after exchanging civilities with his late Keeper, marched off pointing significantly at the Jail, and then Carnac.


  • I would take the liberty of suggesting to Capt. Ellis, if report speaks truly, the impropriety of allowing Yagan to distribute the bread. The propriety of allowing any of the natives to do this at present, is, perhaps questionable. But the conferring this honor upon Yagan is a gross insult to Yellowgonga, who is the leading Chief on this side of the water.


  • Yagan, allowed by every one to be, of savages the most savage, wept with gratitude after I saved his life, and expressed his sense of the kindness shown to him in the strongest terms Yet this is the man who, in the midst of his guards, on a small island, where his life must have been the forfeit, could seize his spear; and, erect in all the pride of his native independence, determine to sell his life dearly, rather than submit even to an insult. Such are the men you have to deal with in the natives of Western Australia.


  • We have been informed by Captain Ellis of an interesting fact, that Yagan the native we alluded to in a previous number as the daring chief of the tribe, hurried to him in the greatest anxiety during the time the fire was raging, and wished to know whether suspicion rested upon black man or white man; on its being intimated to him that the fire was purely accidental, he evinced by his expressions and gestures great delight. He made every exertion to procure water, and stimulated others by his cry for mocha, mocha. This we believe may be relied on, and is a striking trait in his character.


  • On Saturday last, Yagan taking advantage of Mr. Watsons absence from home, he entered the house, and offered such violence as occasioned Mrs. Watsons hurrying in great agitation to the house of a neighbour for protection; finding his intention defeated, he endeavoured to remove her suspicions by calling her back and exclaiming "White Woman, very good! — good bye!" — but when he found his efforts unavailing, he made off in a different direction.
    The report of this occurrence reaching the ears of Capt. Ellis, the Superintendent of the native tribes, he, accompanied by Mr. Norcott and two soldiers took advantage of the first appearance of Yagan in the town of Perth, on the Monday, to conduct him with other natives to Mr. Watson's house, for the purpose of explaining to them the punishment which would attend a repetition of such an attempt as Yagan had been guilty of; however, on reaching the spot, Yagan, who had been entrapped once before, conscious of his offence, and apprehending danger, started into the bush followed by the others of his tribe. Ryan one of the privates of the 63d. misunderstanding Capt. Ellis's order hastily fired, but without injuring any of them;—Captain Ellis rode after them, but could not prevail upon them to return. Yagan and Migo (the man who was supposed to have been wounded), have since been in the town, and the whole affair which has been magnified into a desperate attack upon the natives, has thus ended as the mere idle gossip of the day.
  • Yagan, whose portrait(by Mr. George Cruikshank) forms the frontispiece, was chief of the tribe of natives inhabiting the banks of the Swan, over whom his remarkable character had acquired an unusual ascendancy. He was strong and active, perfectly fearless, and the best spearsman of his tribe — but passionate, implacable and sullen; in short, a most complete and untameable savage. He very soon made his first essay against the settlers,by decamping with a bag of flour belonging to the commandant: the robbery was discovered, and a native, who gave information, led a party upon his trail with the quickness and sagacity of an Indian, until they found the flour, but not the thief, in a thick swamp. After leading his tribe in an unsuccessful attack upon the barracks at the Canning River — in which, it is said, he performed the romantic feat of burying the head of his spear in a tree from a distance of sixty yards — he was the principal actor in two murders, and a reward was offered by Government for his apprehension. For a considerable time he evaded pursuit, but was at length, with two other natives, enticed into a board by some fishermen, who pushed off into deep water, and, after a desperate resistance, secured him. Being removed for safety to an island off the coast, he made his escape, with his companions, and soon afterwards, accompanied by his own and another tribe, entered Fremantle in the night, and plundered the stores of a merchant, but not without the loss of one killed, and several who were wounded by the inhabitants, who fired on the marauders. To revenge this death, Yagan immediately proceeded to the Canning, and, having laid an ambuscade, killed two men who were driving a cart in advance of a party of settlers, who were moving up the river. He was now outlawed, and constantly pursued from place to place for three months. At length two brothers, shepherds, one eighteen the other fourteen, met him in the woods along with Weeip, a mountain chief, and five other natives. The boys instantly armed themselves each with a gun, and the elder, engaging Yagan in conversation until his head was in a line with the muzzle of his gun, shot him. The boys did not both escape; the elder was overtaken and speared. Yagan always shewed an inveterate hostility towards the Europeans. He certainly was a dangerous character, and decided steps were necessary to be taken, nor merely on account of his past behaviour, but also of a determination which he expressed, and would have no doubt carried into effect, of taking the lives of three "white men," in revenge for the death of his father, who had been shot by order of Government, upon being tried and convicted of murder. The justice of his death appears to have been recognised by his tribe; for after have propitiated the shade of their chief by taking — not, as had been their practice when one of their number had been killed by the Europeans, a white man's life, but — the lives of two individuals of an unoffending tribe, all hostility ceased, and a friendly feeling was soon established.

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